5th Sunday of Easter
Fr. Joseph Levine; May 2, 2021
Readings: Acts 9:26-31; Ps 22:26-28,30-32; 1 Jn 3:18-24; Jn 15:1-8
Let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.
The last Sunday that I preached, which was two weeks ago, I warned about the dangers of self-deception, based on the words of St. John, Those who say, ‘I know him,’ but do not keep his commandments are liars, and the truth is not in them. (1 Jn 2:4) In today’s 2nd reading, St. John again warns us that we must not just use the word ‘love’ as a justification for whatever we do, but we must live the reality of love ‘in deed and truth’.
We must love God in deed and truth and we must love our neighbor in deed and in truth. St. John emphasizes directly the latter. For example: If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. (1 Jn 4:20) The failure to love our neighbor reveals a defect in the claim to love God.
Nevertheless, since the two commandments of love are inseparable, and since indeed the command to love God is primary, (cf. Mt 22:37-38) we can turn this around and say, “If anyone says that he loves his brother, but does not love God, he is a liar. For he who does not love God, cannot love the brother whom God created, redeemed, and calls to eternal life.” St. John comes close to saying this when he writes: Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God, and everyone who loves the father loves the one begotten by him. In this way we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. (1 Jn 5:1-2)
It is God himself who defines what it really means to love our neighbor and he does this is a special way by means of the commandments. This is a message that is of the utmost importance for our times precisely because love of neighbor has been separated from the love of God. These days it is said that it doesn’t matter what we believe about God, only how we treat one another as human beings; without God, however, we actually cannot understand rightly, or at least not adequately and completely, what it means to be a human being and how to treat each other. (cf. GS 22)
This should be evident in this time of the pandemic in which all manner of inhuman nonsense has been mandated in the name of respecting our neighbor.
Further, our knowledge and love of God depends upon faith in Jesus Christ. Last Sunday we heard that Jesus is the stone rejected by the builders that has become the cornerstone and that there is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to men by which we are to be saved. (Acts 4:11,12)
This fits with today’s Gospel in which Jesus tells us that he is the vine and that we are the branches. The sap that flows through the vine and branches, giving the life of grace, and producing fruit, is the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
Only the branch the remains in Jesus, does not block the grace of the Holy Spirit, and thus bears fruit, will be saved. If the branches that do not bear fruit will be cut off and thrown into the fire, what will happen to those who do not even belong to the vine?
Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit. True love of neighbor is the fruit produced by those branches who remain in the vine, which is Jesus Christ. We must then believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and we must love him and keep his commandments. Everything depends upon this.
Believing in Jesus and loving Jesus we must remain in him and he in us. All of this is accomplished most of all through true, interior participation in the Holy Eucharist. Elsewhere Jesus said, He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in my and I in him. (Jn 6:56) The same Jesus Christ, true God and true man, who was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified and rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father, is really, truly, and substantially present beneath the appearances of bread and wine; after the consecration it is no longer bread and wine, but truly the Body and Blood of Christ. In this great sacrament he is offered in sacrifice for our salvation; he is given to us as the nourishment of the life of grace in holy communion; he lives in our midst in the tabernacle, where he waits for our visit, our faith, our adoration, our love.
This faith and love are impossible without the Church. The Church is indeed the vine which is Jesus Christ and the branches that are us. The Tradition of the Church together with the authentic interpretation of her teaching authority or ‘magisterium’ is the measure and guarantee of our faith. Through the Church we receive the life-giving sacraments of faith. Finally, we cannot love our brother in Christ if we separate ourselves from him by separating ourselves from the Church. We cannot reduce the love of our brother in Christ to the love of our family and friends, or some chosen community.
Loving in deed and in truth means fulfilling the exhortation of St. Paul: Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which is the bond of perfection. (Col 3:12-14)
Because we are sinners, bearing with one another in love, bearing with what we cannot correct or change, is an indispensable part of love in deed and in truth.
That means that while we must never approve of sin, we must accept the sinner who lives in the midst of the Church. We must accept the sinner and we must tolerate the hypocrite. Only the Pope and the bishops have actual authority to cast anyone out, to serve as instruments of the Father/vinedresser, as it were, in the pruning of the vine. Some may cut themselves off, but we have no authority to cast them out. Indeed, even when it comes to heretics, while we must beware of them, we have no authority to cast them out. Even as regards those who have cut themselves off or been cast out, we must desire and pray that they repent so as to be grafted anew into the vine. (cf. Rm 11:23-24)
Consider this: Jesus endured Judas in the number of the Apostles to the point of his betrayal. Even after that, had Judas only repented, he would have been welcomed back by Jesus. The Psalmist gives poignant expression to the Heart of Jesus, which me must share: It is not an enemy who taunts me – then I could bear it; it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me – then I could hide from him. But it is you, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend. We used to hold sweet converse together, within God’s house we walked in fellowship. (Ps 55:12-14)
Even such a one we must love, as Jesus greeted Judas as ‘friend’ when he drew near with the treasonous kiss.
True love knows how to suffer, after the example of Jesus Christ. This love is impossible without the grace of God, without the sap of the true vine.
We stand now at the beginning of the month of May, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, full of grace, who in faith and love said ‘yes’ to the angel of God, who gave birth to Jesus, the true Vine, who stood faithfully by his Cross, sharing the suffering of Jesus, united to his sacrifice as ‘Co-Redemptrix’, and who reigns with him now from heaven, praying for us as our Mother and our Advocate, the Mediatrix of Grace.
We need her help, her prayers, so that we can remain in Jesus and he in us, so that we might love in deed and in truth and so bear much fruit to the glory of God.
We are also in the Year of St. Joseph, the husband of Mary, who fulfilled the role of a virginal father for Jesus upon the earth. He protected the life of Jesus and Mary upon the earth. He is now with them in heaven, serving as the great patron and protector of the Church. He protects in us the life of grace in the Holy Spirit, the life that bears the fruit of love in deed and in truth.